Latin America has always had a strong showing at the World Cup and this year it is no different. Panama, a country of only four million, will be entering its first World Cup. Costa Rica will be making its fifth appearance, and although their last friendlies were not encouraging, they are still a capable force. Having conceded only seven goals in eight matches, Peru qualified ahead of favorites Chile and Paraguay. Mexico, a regular at the World Cup, will once again try to beat its record, and progress further than the quarterfinals.
This will also be Colombia’s second straight World Cup appearance, having reached the quarterfinals in Brazil in 2014. Brazil, in turn, was the first team to qualify for this year’s tournament, and the 7-1 fiasco of four years ago has nearly been forgotten. With one of the top performances in qualifying, Uruguay’s reliance on fading stars might pay off this year. In contrast, due to its poor qualifying run, Argentina barely made this year’s tournament. However, it is the players who make up the teams, so let’s have a look at some of the top Latin Americans who will play at this year’s tournament.
Luis Tejada, Panama
Playing his football at Club Universitario in Lima, Peru, the Panamanian striker has scored a total 43 goals for his country in international competitions and was a key component of why Panama qualified for their first World Cup. FIFA confirms that in 34 World Cup qualifying matches, from 2004 to 2017, Tejada scored 14 goals, receiving only six yellow cards. This will be his first time to shine on the big stage.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Despite a rocky qualifying run, the Barcelona star helped his country qualify for the World Cup after he scored all three goals in the 3-1 victory over Ecuador. Having appeared in the three previous World Cup tournaments (2006, 2010 and 2014) Messi has scored five goals and helped Argentina reach the final in 2014. Dubbed “the best player in the world,” all eyes will be on Messi this year, for what could be his last World Cup.
Javier Hernandez, Mexico
The West Ham striker, nicknamed “Chicharito” has so far made two World Cup appearances, in 2010 and 2014, and scored three goals in eight matches. An exceptional player, he will look to follow in the footsteps of Claudio “El emperador” Suarez, a hall of famer whom El Tecolote previously called one of the most gifted soccer player Mexico has ever produced. If Hernandez has a good tournament he too could become one of Mexico’s best ever players.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker, at 26 years old, is in the prime of his career and will have his chance to battle Lionel Messi and Ronaldo for best player at this year’s World Cup. In 2014 Neymar scored four goals in five matches before injuring his back in the quarterfinal match against Colombia. This year Neymar will once again have a chance to show why he is truly among the best players in the world.
James Rodriguez, Colombia
A rising star at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Bayern Munich midfielder (currently on loan from Real Madrid), scored six goals in five matches at the last World Cup. As reported by the Telegraph in 2014 he was also instrumental in the round of 16 defeat of Uruguay when he scored a stunning volley in Colombia’s 2-0 win.
Keylor Navas, Costa Rica
After having had a spectacular tournament at the 2014 World Cup, the young goalkeeper was quickly snatched by Real Madrid. His speed and his reflexes earned him best player of the season in La Liga in 2014 while he was still at Levante, and even Barcelona contemplated making a move for him. His spectacular performance helped propel his country to the quarterfinals in 2014, and he held the Dutch at bay in that game, narrowly losing 4-3 in the penalty shootout.
With so many great Latin American players, the goals and celebrations should be plentiful at this year’s World Cup. Over the years the World Cup has produced some iconic goal celebrations. In Coral’s article on the evolution of goal celebrations, they called Brazilian Bebeto’s 1994 “baby” celebration one of the “most memorable World Cup images”. Here’s hoping that there will be plenty of outstanding performances, and goal celebrations, equal to Bebeto’s from this year’s Latin America players.
Story by: SportsandJVB